Archive for February, 2011

Sensible legislation


Perfectly reasonable sentiments.


Multiculturalism RIP?


There is rightly increasing discussion about multiculturalism in Europe. For too long this topic has been avoided by politicians and the media alike for fear of being branded an “extremist”.

However in October 2010 German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a talk in which “She said the so-called ‘multikulti’ concept – where people would ‘live side-by-side’ happily – did not work, and immigrants needed to do more to integrate”.

The news report states that “A recent survey suggested more than 30% of people believed the country was ‘overrun by foreigners'”. Merkel however it was reported made clear that immigrants were welcome in Germany but added that “We should not be a country either which gives the impression to the outside world that those who don’t speak German immediately or who were not raised speaking German are not welcome here.” This is however often a criticism of immigrants when entering any foreign country be it in Europe or North America. Part of this comes down to a rabid relativism, which has bred a distinct form of political correctness, that says to expect others to speak the same language as the majority of the country is somehow oppressing the immigrants culture. Yet this “logic” has gone unchecked for too long and needs to be sternly corrected.

Following on the path trod by Chancellor Merkel, David Cameron, UK Prime Minister said only weeks ago that “state multiculturalism” has failed. What is clear however is that the leaders here have not rejected multiculturalism per se, merely its excessively pc current format. As it was reported thatCameron said that there “would be greater scrutiny of some Muslim groups which get public money but do little to tackle extremism”. Cameron said that “we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism”. Surely muscular liberalism is an oxymoron, except when its referring to neoliberalism that can tear the world’s economy apart.

Interestingly Cameron said in the speech that “Let’s properly judge these organisations: Do they believe in universal human rights – including for women and people of other faiths? Do they believe in equality of all before the law? Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government? Do they encourage integration or separatism?”. In other words he’s trying to bring objective (i.e. not relative) criteria to decide which organisations are dangerous or not to society at large.

Finally, it has been said that “Abandon the entire project of multiculturalism and you abandon with it the promise which is implicit in multiculturalism of a renewed or a fresh relationship between Islam and the west”, to draw such a conclusion is pure hyperbole as it implies that the Wests relations with the entire Islamic community all over the world depends multiculturalism in Europe.

It will be interesting to see how this new “muscular liberalism” works in practice, if at all.

The Church still has much to teach us


Reflection of the Irish Bishops Conference on the impending election there.

Shutdown 2011?


Prepare for the blame game. Proof that checks and balances are no longer suitable.

Estimates for the 31st Dail


People are finally coming to terms with the view that Fianna Fáil will do better in the election than opinion polls suggest.

Not only that but Fine Gael will probably do less well off than expected and fall short of an absolute majority and need Labour to join with them, giving FF a chance to regrettably come back from the brink of extinction.

It says that “Fine Gael’s position is solidifying (not surging) and Labour is slipping slightly (not falling). The Greens look unlikely to return any seats. Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin also seem not to be moving”.

Predictably people should “consider that all polls are underestimating Fianna Fáil for a number of reasons. One is that people will be shy of admitting to vote for Fianna Fáil, particularly in face to face interviews because of a stigma attached the party now”.

Sadly, “It’s difficult to come to any firm conclusion about whether Fianna Fáil estimates are about right or systematically below the real vote intention. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to see Fianna Fáil closer to 20 percent in the final results”.

This would translate into “Fianna Fáil return 25-29 TDs (incl. Seamus Kirk [speaker]); Fine Gael would win 65-69 seats, a good deal lower than the estimates Adrian Kavanagh predicts; Labour would win 33-37 seats and Sinn Féin 17-21 seats”.

This is perhaps the closest realistic estimation that has been seen. Previous figures quoted here by others put FF on 16 seats while FG were on the high 70s, neither of which is likely even after all that has happen to Ireland.

Unless Labour see the light and has has been discussed here before, stay out of government and make sure that FG are squeezed in government and FF fade into irrelevance in the opposition, while Labour bide their time for the future.

With the most likely possibility of a FG/Labour coalition offering no policy/ideological difference hopes for agonism in Ireland remain a distant dream.

The invisible hand really is invisible


There is something very wrong when banks serve only their employees.  Maybe the invisible hand really is invisible.

In the world’s interest


The real cost of the recent disorder in the Arab world.

Labour under pressure


Finally the centre is being squeezed out of Irish politics, or at the very least is under pressure.

In an interesting post about the Labour Party’s increasingly slipping poll numbers, the author describes  how the other party with which is it vying for the largest number of seats, Fine Gael, is not in the same position.

Fine Gael it says “has had very little policy competition. The PDs are gone, which removed an old threat for Fine Gael whenever it moved too close to the centre”. Thus FG are free to roam the centre ground as they see fit, Labour on the other hand have the problem of “If it wanted to position itself in the centre, it had to be careful not to concede too much ground to ULA or Sinn Féin candidates”.

Not only that but FG have skillfully warned Labour’s large group of middle class supporters that Labour is a high tax party. However this should not be all that surprising being a party of the left, yet not when the middle classes are so heavily involved it its support base.

If that were not enough Labour has to be careful as should “be careful not to concede too much ground to ULA or Sinn Féin candidates” on the left. The author goes on to say that “each time Labour mentioned more tax than cuts (to protect its left flank) Fine Gael could attack it as a high tax party”.

Whether any of this will happen and FF support will really collapse and at the same time FG will manage to get enough seats only to need support from independents and keep Labour on the opposition benches is too soon to tell, with the Irish electorate keeping their real intentions, for want of a better word, in pectore.

Only the beginning


More to come.

Shooting themselves in the foot


Either Ireland will default or Europe has shot itself in the foot, with consequences for itself and their precious “European project”.

Least worst option


The question of political parties is pertinent due to the recent posts. Are they the best way of expressing ideology/vision of society or are there better ways?

In an article examining the UK Conservative Party. It makes the valid point that “before last May, Britain did have political coalitions of a sort. The main parties have themselves always been uneasy alliances.” Every party has factions or wings that are more left or right and this at times creates tension. As the article says of the Tories, “The party’s right grumbles about the prime minister’s policy sops to his Lib Dem coalition partners. The left provocatively suggests an electoral pact with them.” As the magazine states looking ahead, “The antagonism between Tory left and right could be one of the main political themes of the year”.

The article says of the right of the party that they “are not as preoccupied with economics as the ‘dry’ Thatcherites of yesteryear. If they were, the government’s ferocious spending cuts would keep them happy”. It argues that the “right resents austerity when it is applied to defence; it wants Mr Cameron to revive his former reverence for the family”.

In contrast “the new left—including the Cabinet Office ministers Oliver Letwin and Francis Maude, and the backbencher Nick Boles—are iconoclasts who define themselves by their zeal for giving power away. They have diverse views on economics, crime and Europe, but share a commitment to stronger local government and more control for ordinary people over public services”.

In light of these very serious differences it is hard to see how the party can govern effectively. There is an argument to be made for smaller more ideologically cohesive parties. This would in turn provide the voter with a clearer idea of what he is actually voting for.

However, the problems with this is that single or small issue parties, whatever the electoral system, rarely have the following needed to get into office. The other option is to have many small single issue parties form a coalition. This would to be the best, yet there would be a high chance of the coalition falling apart due to infighting of the parties and the government needed the support of many or all of the parties in government to function.

The only other alternative is what we have now, where broad parties such as the Democrats in the US or the UK Labour party have factions but come together because they share the same basic beliefs. The only problem this creates is that the party leader needs to be very adept at controlling these factions.

On the specific example of the UK Conservatives, the “new shape and character of Tory divisions actually helps Mr Cameron in some ways. Because the right is now as cultural as it is economic, and the left more enthusiastic about decentralising power, both can rally around Mr Cameron’s idea of the ‘Big Society‘”. Finally it warns that the “downside of Mr Cameron’s vast self-belief is complacency, often manifested in an inattentiveness to his own political backyard. If he needs the support of his right flank in a future crisis, he cannot be sure of getting it”.

So regrettably broad tent parties are here to stay but only as the least worst option, nothing more.

Ups and downs


The Economist takes a look ahead at the next eighteen months for President Obama. It discusses his preformance and prospects for reelection.

It notes how in his State of the Union address that he told Congress that America had to “out-innovate, out-educate, and outbuild the rest of the world” and be “the best place on earth to do business.” The article notes how “After the thumping of the mid-terms, the man who had developed flat feet suddenly got his moves back”. However this fails to overlook the fact that there was “no change in President Obama’s job approval rating after his State of the Union address”.

The SOTU was, it generally is, short on detail but having said that his “job approval rating for the week of Jan. 24-30 was 84% among Democrats, 45% among independents, and 15% among Republicans”. However it bears noting as Gallup says that polls so far ahead of an election “have little election forecasting validity”. However President Obama stands a fair chance of getting re-elected, especially when there was a recent round of moves within the White House which included Bill Daley becoming Chief of Staff but also Jay Carney becoming press secretary and Gene Sperling formerly of the Treasury being moved to become NEC director. It is notable that Sperling and Daley both worked in investment banks at various times in their careers.

The Economist goes on to point out that  Obama’s victories include “repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the armed forces and ratification of the New START deal with Russia”. These achievements while notable are of little or no significance to the vast majority of Americans. It mentions that despite his majorities in the 111th Congress Obama “did not give Mr Obama the power to enact every measure he wanted (an energy bill and immigration reform were two that fell by the wayside”.   This is just farcical, to be in charge of both houses of Congress and yet be unable to pass major legislation because your own party doesn’t agree with it makes little sense. The world has less and less time for this idiosyncratic way of doing things.

It contrasts Newt Gingrich who presided over the “Republican Revolution” of 1995 and the current speaker, John Boehner “a pragmatic politician who has in the past worked comfortably with Democrats”, it adds with a note of warning however that “But many of the new Republicans in Congress think they were sent there to slay Leviathan, not rub along pleasantly with the big-spending Democrats. Behind them, the grassroots of the tea-party movement are already spiky with indignation after the compromises of the lame-duck session and are standing guard against further betrayal”.

It says the Obama will try to protect his healthcare bill in the Senate but the courts are having major problems with it as it stands and the Supreme Court may well rule on it yet. The budget deficit did get a mention in the STOU speech, the deficit reduction commission headed by Bowles-Simpson “to cut the deficit to 1.2% of GDP by 2020 and reduce the debt to 60% of GDP by 2023 via a mixture of spending cuts and tax increases. Mr Obama acknowledged in his speech that they had made ‘important progress’, but said he did not agree with all their proposals, and gave no impression he would implement any”. 

The article notes that Americans like divided government, “Its fans say that it forces politicians from opposite ends of the spectrum to seek common cause in the centre”. That made sense fifty years ago, however that does not take into account the inceasing divisions of the GOP and the Dems today. America needs less checks and balances and more action through unified government or else people of all stripes are going to start wishing the world wasn’t run by China.

Cardinal Husar retires


Amid the recent disorder in the Middle East there is change afoot in the ecclesiastical sphere also, though predictably not quite as dramatic.

As has been mentioned before, Nasrallah Pierre Cardinal Sfeir, patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites has submitted his resignation with a synod called to replace him set for early March.

Meanwhile yesterday, Pope Benedict accepted the resignation of, Lubomyr Cardinal Husar, Major Archbishop/Archeparch of Kiev of the Ukranians who is in ill health with failing eysight. Such events are extremely rare in the Eastern Catholic Churches but there is canonical provision for it.

Rocco reports that “Above all, though, the selection of the next major-archbishop will be watched with considerable attention far outside Ukrainian and Catholic circles alike for the decision’s potential impact on the delicate relationship between the Vatican and the Kremlin”.

Rocco says that the upcoming synod, made up of all eparchs and archeparchs of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to chose the next leader of the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches must take place within a month and that the choice will either reflect a more diplomatic figure or someone to stand up for the church’s rights against a dominant and increasingly powerful Russian Orthodox Church.

On a side note Eastern Catholic Churches chose their bishops (or eparchs) by synod, albeit under the eye of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches in Rome.

Also yesterday Benedict received John Patrick Cardinal Foley, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in audience. This is either for one of two things. It is either a general update or less likely the start of discussions on Cardinal Foley’s retirement. The latter is unlikely however as his predecessor in the job, Carlo Cardinal Furno, only retired in 2007 aged 85.

Not at the expense of national security


Amid the recent court appearance in London of Julian Assange during his extradition hearings, some are calling for the United States to back off.

The opening line states that “Pressing forward with efforts to prosecute an Internet publisher at home while standing up for an open Internet in Egypt and the world at large is an increasingly tenuous position”. It should hardly need to be stated but Assange is no “publisher”. He knowingly handled highly classified diplomatic cables, some of which are extremely important. To equate Assange as some kind of online publisher of well respected academic material is ludicrous.

He goes on to say that “The WikiLeaks case endangers the reputation of the United States as a defender of free speech and an open Internet globally, while forcing the Obama administration to take uncomfortable constitutional positions better suited to the Nixon administration”. In know way is this the case. Wikileaks and Assange openly loath the United States. The position of the Federal Government or Constitution is unchanged that free speech is fundamental. However, this does not extend to diplomatic cables which by their very nature are sensitive, though on some occasions predictable. It is necessary that some of these

Similarly to smear President Obama as the new President Nixon is utter distortion, it also paints President Nixon as a one dimensional character who from the day he was born plotted to bug the DNC HQ. Regarding Egypt he mentions that “the Obama administration and the United States must make sure that they stand on the right side”. While this is true it is also simplistic. If the people want an Islamist regime similar to Iran, the chance of which is small, it could destabilises the Middle East even more as well as given Israel an excuse it needed to strike militarily.

Apparently, “While the Justice Department’s original plan to rely on the Espionage Act apparently has been dropped, it is still considering the prosecution of either Julian Assange personally or media organizations that published documents obtained by Wikileaks based on a theory of conspiracy or solicitation”. He states that “Senator Joe Lieberman, were he president, would long ago have begun the extradition. ‘I think it’s the most serious violation of the Espionage Act in our history,’ he recently told FOX News”.

Some however are of a different mind and Assange’s recent nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize on the grounds that Wikileaks “disclosures of classified documents promote world peace” rejects the good America does and ignores the sinful nature of man and thus the need for secrecy in senstive areas.

The conflating of free speech and the activities of Wikileaks, which puts US troops and therefore America itself in danger, should not be accepted and does not stand up to to argument.

A new beginning?


At last the Irish general election is under way with polling scheduled for 25th February. The governing coalition collapsed after the Green party left and the main party, Fianna Fáil continued in a minority government with the Prime Minister not being the leader of his party a bizarre situation that will continue until a new government is formed.

A recent opinion poll put the parties on: Fianna Fail 17%, Fine Gael 35%, Labour 22%, Green Party 2%, Sinn Fein 13%, Others 11%.

This translates into seats with Fianna Fail 25, Fine Gael 71, Labour 39, Green Party 0, Sinn Fein 14, Others 17 (including 6 United Left Alliance candidates – overall 10 “Left” leaning Others/7 “Right” leaning Others)

This means that coalition options would stand would be: Fine Gael/Labour 110 seats (majority of 54 seats), Fine Gael/”Right-leaning” Independents-Others 78 seats, Fine Gael/Fianna Fail 96 (majority of 26 seats), Fianna Fail/Labour 64 seats, Fianna Fail/Labour/Sinn Fein 82 seats, “Left Coalition” 68 seats, Fine Gael/Green Party 64 seats, Fine Gael/”Right-leaning” Independents-Others/Green Party 78 seats.

Interestingly Fianna Fáil have said that they may back Fine Gael, “Brian Cowen has said he would support a policy of backing a Fine Gael minority government in the next Dáil if economic positions set out by his Government are adhered to and if new Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin backs such a move”. This is indeed momentous and such a move would finally herald, or at least begin to herald, a much needed dose of ideology into the Irish party system and it would rightly, equate FF with FG in voters minds. This would allow Labour to pursue policies that it should pursue with the Socialist party there to keep Labour on the correct ideological track. This is tempered by the fact that Cowen said it and not the party leader, Micheal Martin, who is trying to get FF to survive past this election and thus has every reason to try to differentiate itself from Fine Gael.

As has been eloquently written the “difficulty for Fianna Fáil and Cowen recently was that the narrative went national. The party has presided over a loss of sovereignty and economic ruin”.

As noted academic Michael Marsh has written after another poll, “Fianna Fáil is expected to average only 0.7 quotas per constituency. Labour is expected to win 1.3 and FG 1.6. A vote amounting to 0.7 quotas will translate into a seat more often than not, so we might guess that Fianna Fáil could win in excess of 30 seats with its 17 per cent of the vote”. This seems a fair estimate with the Irish electorate being far too able to distinguish between person and party. Thus disliking the party but voting for the candidate due to personal qualities. Marsh however says that “A single candidate, helped by transfers, will often make it, but where a party spreads its vote over two candidates, 0.7 of a quota is an unlikely basis for a seat. This is because a party’s voters cannot be relied on to transfer support to a running mate. Moreover, in 11 constituencies Fianna Fáil manages no more than half a quota or less”.

Finally, Marsh says of the Labour party’s desire to form a government on its own that the “expected Labour vote of 1.3 quotas per constituency hardly justifies two candidates in many, or indeed in most seats, but Labour is running multiple candidates more often than not with two candidates in 21 constituencies and three in two more.”

Not only that but will all of the parties wanting proper local government and many talking openly of electoral reform and unicameralism, there is a chance that the Irish party system may get the ideology it badly needs.

Stirrings in Egypt


The right course of action in Egypt.

President Santorum?


In an interesting article about the crowded GOP field for 2012 The Hill looks at Rick Santorum.

When he was running for election to the House his pollster said that “‘Rick, I can put anybody’s name on a survey and get 7 or 8 percent,’ ” Santorum recalled. “ ‘That makes you two or three points below nobody.’” Yet he was duly elected to the House and then later the Senate.

However it report states that “In a GOP field that, along with Romney, could include former Govs. Sarah Palin (Alaska) and Mike Huckabee (Arkansas) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), the former senator would undoubtedly struggle for elbow room.” It is of course possible that Santorum could get the GOP nomination on his own, as only “Four years after being elected to the House, he launched a successful bid for the Senate, being sworn in to the upper chamber at the age of 36. However what is much more likely is if he were to stay on in the primaries long enough he could have his name in contention for the Vice-Presidency.

If Romney were to get the nomination, or indeed Rob Portman or Mitch Daniels, Santorum could balance the ticket by bringing both his Roman Catholicism and social conservativism, especially his anti gay marriage stance, to bring in the base. Having been elected in Pennsylvania he could also lure in that vital swing state. Yet this would be balanced by Santorum being seen as a very divisive figure that could repel indpendents.

Setting an example


Baroness Ashton’s latest innovation – base foreign policy on political correctness.

On your marks


Is this the countdown to Tarcisio Cardinal’s Bertone’s retirement with Raymond Cardinal Burke and Marc Cardinal Ouellet the frontrunners to take over from Cardinal Bertone as Secretary of State to His Holiness?

Cardinal Burke and Cardinal Ouellet being appointed to the Second Section at the Secretariat of State, i.e. the part that deals with the relations between the Holy See and secular governemnts, could be the beginning of their training to the most senior job in the Roman Curia, apart from that of the papacy itself.   

Cardinal Bertone, who turned 75 and thus handed in his resignation in December 2009, was asked to stay in office for the time being. However, there is a chance that Pope Benedct is getting tired of the gaffe prone Cardinal Bertone and is considering his options ahead of Cardinal Bertone completing his initial quinquennium in September 2011.

Alternatively, Benedict could be preparing to step down and wants to tie the hands of his sucessor by putting what is considered young men, in the top job to carry on the Benedict agenda after he himself as left.